Love of art and "defining process" fuels MBA pursuit

Amanda Langston headshotThe short story is that Amanda Langston, an international go-to-market project manager for Columbia Sportswear, moved to Portland for college and never left.

But what makes Langston’s story stand out is the slew of unexpected paths that her journey opened up, from studying fine art photography to working for some of the world’s best known retail brands.

Langston, originally from Memphis, Tennessee, remained in her hometown for the beginning of her college career but decided she needed a change. After a close friend moved to Seattle, Langston decided to look at schools in the Pacific Northwest and ended up falling for Portland, where she had family she could stay with while exploring the area.

“I loved all the green space and the landscape and the mountains,” says Langston. “I loved everything about Portland.”

Langston finished her undergraduate degree in fine art photography from Pacific Northwest College of Art. After graduation, she was working “odd jobs” for FedEx, a local theater and a vodka company before landing a position as a digital asset manager for a commercial photography studio operated by major communications firm RR Donnelly.

It was through this position that Langston’s inclination toward project management began to blossom.

“I ended up taking on a lot of project management roles and responsibilities, especially in terms of defining process,” says Langston. “I really enjoyed it. I found that, on some level, thinking about process kind of came naturally to me.”

Langston ended up being offered an associate-level project management job at RR Donnelly and earned a certificate in project management from Portland State University. From there, she went on to work for Nike on a one-year contract as a design studio manager and design project manager for the company’s global brand design team for young athletes.

Toward the end of her tenure at Nike, Langston thought about pursuing an MBA in an attempt to get out of “the weeds” of project management and expand her skills to a larger operational scale. While she’s been responsible for tracking budgets as a project manager, things like making far-reaching financial decisions based around a business’ budget intrigued her.

“When I thought about what types of positions get to do that, I felt like I needed a more holistic view of business versus just what I know about project management,” says Langston.

After Langston left Nike and began attending Willamette University’s MBA for Professionals program, she did a brief project management stint at Kamp Grizzly before being hired at Columbia Sportswear this past May — a position she learned about from one of her fellow cohort members at Willamette.

The MBA for Professionals program appealed to Langston on a number of levels: She enjoys the small cohort model, the “well-rounded” nature of the curriculum, the range of unique perspectives represented among her classmates, and going beyond case studies with heavy emphasis on participation and discussion.

Much to Langston’s surprise, the program has even revealed an unexpected propensity toward accounting.

“I will never be amazing at balancing spreadsheets,” says Langston, “but learning how to read a financial report, learning ratios, learning how to gauge the health of a business, and how, as a manager, that is going to be able to help you make strategic decisions, was one of the most eye-opening classes for me.”

Langston is on track to earn her MBA in 2018, and is thinking of opening her own agency one day.